Priest who shared stage with Modi tests positive; India sees record number of cases

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) performs a religious ritual during the groundbreaking ceremony of a grand Hindu temple in Ayodhya. (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 August 2020

Priest who shared stage with Modi tests positive; India sees record number of cases

  • Nritya Gopal Das, an 82-year-old Hindu priest, was the latest public figure to test positive
  • Television footage showed Modi holding Das’ hands and bowing before him

LUCKNOW, India: India reported another record jump in its surging coronavirus cases on Thursday with nearly 67,000 new infections, among them a religious leader who shared a stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a ceremony to launch construction of a grand temple.
Nritya Gopal Das, an 82-year-old Hindu priest, was the latest public figure to test positive after a string of Modi’s top cabinet colleagues were stricken with COVID-19, including interior minister Amit Shah.
With Thursday’s jump of 66,999 cases India now has nearly 2.4 million infections, according to the Health Ministry, behind only the United States and Brazil. For the last fortnight, it has been reporting 50,000 cases or more each day as it opens up the country after a months-long lockdown. Its COVID-19 death toll stands at 47,033.
Modi and Das were among 170 people who attended the Aug. 5 launch of the temple construction in the northern town of Ayodhya.
Dr. Murli Singh, director of information in Ayodhya, said Das had tested positive and was being moved to a hospital near Delhi. But he added that at the time of the ceremony the priest tested negative and so had not posed an infection risk to Modi.
Television footage showed Modi held Das’ hands and bowed before him. Modi’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Singh said people invited for the launch were all clear of the virus at the time.
“Guidelines were sent to all that only COVID-19 negative people will be allowed in the ceremony,” he said, adding doctors on the ground in Ayodhya had run tests before the event started.
The planned temple at Ayodhya is on a disputed site where Hindu groups have campaigned for decades.
Separately on Wednesday, a government committee said that the country would utilize its large vaccine manufacturing capacity to urgently deliver any potential COVID-19 vaccine to its neighbors and low-income countries.


Afghan study offer draws Pakistani students

Updated 28 min 25 sec ago

Afghan study offer draws Pakistani students

  • Medicine gets top marks among 150 scholarship hopefuls

PESHAWAR: About 150 students from northwestern Pakistan traveled to Afghanistan this month to take part in tests that could win them Afghan government scholarships for higher education, particularly in medicine.  

The Afghan government pays for 104 scholarships for Pakistanis every year, the Afghan consulate in Peshawar said. 

“Medical education is expensive in Pakistan, so we decided to pursue education in Afghanistan,“ Sana Gul told Arab News.

Gul was among 150 young Pakistanis who left for Kabul last Saturday to attend the scholarship tests.

The group included 11 female students who want to study medicine. 

Gul said that the Pakistanis are hoping that security will improve in Afghanistan, and that peace talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government in Qatar will end with a power-sharing deal.

“We believe the peace process will end with good news, so we are traveling to Kabul,” said Gul, who is accompanied by her sister, Spogami. Both have passed 12th-grade exams.

Their father, Farman Khan, a teacher in the Mardan district, said that his daughters made the decision to go to Afghanistan. 

“We allowed them to decide for themselves and we will stand by them,” he said, adding that he believes the region is now safe “for those who seek education.” 

Arshad Mehsud from South Waziristan also traveled to Afghanistan for the scholarship test in the hope of studying medicine.

“There is no doctor in my village,” he said. “So after completing this degree, I will come back to serve the people of Waziristan.”